I had the opportunity to spend some time out at GigaOM’s new conference Net:Work last week. Net:Work is focused on the evolution of work driven by ubiquitous mobile, broadband, and cloud. The topic with the most buzz around the conference was the subject of “The Human Cloud”. Briefly, the human cloud is the banner term used to describe the way that cloud computing principles of on demand, scalable, fungible resources can be applied to labor requirements in business; think expert sourcing, crowdsourcing, and on demand labor.
The Net:Work conference was covered in Human Cloud vendors. One of the fascinating trends was how they were almost all related to software and web development and the case studies and positioning was almost all focused on agile/lean development organizations.
It’s All About Costs
The core value proposition that was espoused (to no surprise) was the cost arbitrage of offshore labor. The message for these vendors was making it even easier to connect with cheap skillsets. The cloud zen means a reduction in sourcing time and cost through marketplace dynamics. It also removes friction in provisioning and contracting. The cloud approach also provides clean financial infrastructure for terms, billing, and the like.
But It Wasn’t All About Costs
That was all to be expected. However, while cost was the main mantra of the Human Cloud vendors, they were quick to point out the other cloud like benefits. oDesk (marketplace for technical skills) and uTest (on demand testing and QA) both made strong arguments for the Human Cloud’s ability to find very rare skills quickly. They also made the argument that the Human Cloud allows for efficient mechanisms for securing skills that are not need full time. If you only need a hadoop resource 10 hours a week, the other 30 or 40 hours of the individual’s time can be effectively utilized, making it possible for all parties to be successful. Likewise, if you only need usability testing every 3 months as part of a release cycle, you can leverage a large usability team full time for a week. Needs that do not have a predictable schedule (e.g. application icons and graphics, which change infrequently) also benefit heavily from the Human Cloud. Without the Human Cloud, many organizations would have to forego some or all of these scenarios or incur significant increases in time (to source independent contractors and negotiate contracts) or money (by keeping an individual on staff but under utilized).
A Collision Course With Agile
In most Agile/Lean circles, there is a strong, near religious reliance on small, collocated, stable teams executing in a predictable, consistent cadence. There is lots of good arguments to back up why this is appropriate. All of these are getting disrupted by the Human Cloud.
The New Team Reality
The Human Cloud is creating a new reality for Agile/Lean development teams. The key attributes of this brave new world are:
- Transient: Teams and team membership grow and shrink organically to the beat of the business cadence driven by market value creation, not by artificial constructs like org structures and iterations.
- Place Shifted: Teams will be highly distributed, with the work going to the expert based on availability and skill.
- Time Shifted: Teams will operate in multiple timezones. Those timezones will change. Work schedules are not predictable. Some team members will work part time, odd hours, and inconsistently.
- Permeable: Team members will come and go. Some will be involved for a short period of time, others will be more stable. Ramp ups and ramp downs, onboardings and offboardings will be happening near constantly. Trust relationships will be measured on a spectrum not as a binary value. Team boundaries and organization boundaries are fuzzy.
Process and Values Will Change
Fundamental precepts and core compantencies of the well tuned development organization will change as a result of the Human Cloud’s influence. A few of these changes will include:
- A move from teams to communities powered by social technologies
- A focus on development execution infrastructure
- A more disciplined focus on technical debt
- Test infrastructure (software immune system) as a core competency
- A graduated trust model similar to the open source world coupled with a set of explicit reputation systems
It should be interesting to watch this all unfold.